Amazon hiring at Romeoville job fair; hundreds line up to apply

ROMEOVILLE, Ill. (WLS) -- Looking for a job? Amazon held a massive hiring event Wednesday, which included job fairs in southwest suburban Romeoville, Wisconsin and Indiana.

Doors opened at 7:30 a.m. for the job fair at Amazon's Romeoville fulfillment site. There were so many people in line that staff had to close the event at 9:30 a.m. It was originally scheduled to last until noon.

Amazon was looking to fill about 2,500 positions in Illinois on Wednesday. The company said it expects to employ more than 250,000 people nationwide and more than 8,000 people in Illinois by the end of 2018. That figure includes people who currently work at five distribution centers already open in Illinois.

"Amazon Jobs Day" events were held across the nation Wednesday, at locations in Fall River, Mass.; Baltimore; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Etna, Ohio; Hebron, Ky.; Kenosha, Wis.; Kent, Wash.; Robbinsville, N.J.; Romeoville, Ill.; and Whitestown, Ind.

The company advertised starting wages that range from $11.50 an hour at the Tennessee location to $13.75 an hour at the Washington site, which is near Amazon's Seattle headquarters.

Amazon also planned to hold events for part-time positions in Oklahoma City and Buffalo, N.Y.

Job hopefuls attended informational sessions, went on candidate tours and went through an application process. Some people were offered a position on the spot.

"It's Amazon! Why not? They're enormous. I use Amazon. I know they're a great company and it's a good opportunity," said Jim Henes, of Darien, Ill.

"I'm looking for somebody who is hard-working and enthusiastic, with a really strong sense of work ethic. Somebody who is also really into customer support and customer experience," said Shevaun Brown, an Amazon public relations manager.

Somebody like Tim Clemens. Laid off in 2015, he's been looking for work ever since. He was the first person in line Wednesday morning.

"They're pretty big, you know? Way back when, when people said, 'If I would have got into Google, if I would have got into this, I'd be making all kinds of money.' Well, Amazon is big, and they're going to keep growing," Clemens said.

It turns out Clemens did get the job. Congrats, Tim!

Though it's common for Amazon to ramp up its shipping center staff in August to prepare for holiday shopping, the magnitude of the hiring spree underscores Amazon's growth when traditional retailers are closing stores - and blaming Amazon for a shift to buying goods online.

Nearly 40,000 of the 50,000 packing, sorting and shipping jobs at Amazon will be full time. Most of them will count toward Amazon's previously announced goal of adding 100,000 full-time workers by the middle of next year.

The bad news is that more people are likely to lose jobs in stores than get jobs in warehouses, said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. On the flip side, Amazon's warehouse jobs provide "decent and competitive" wages and could help build skills.

"Interpersonal team work, problem solving, critical thinking, all that stuff goes on in these warehouses," Carnevale said. "They're serious entry-level jobs for a lot of young people, even those who are still making their way through school."

At one warehouse in Fall River, Mass., the company hopes to hire more than 200 people Wednesday, adding to a workforce of about 1,500. Employees there focus on sorting, labeling and shipping what the company calls "non-sortable" items - big products such as shovels, surfboards, grills, car seats - and lots of giant diaper boxes. Other warehouses are focused on smaller products.

While Amazon has attracted attention for deploying robots at some of its warehouses, experts said it could take a while before automation begins to seriously bite into its growing labor force.

"When it comes to dexterity, machines aren't really great at it," said Jason Roberts, head of global technology and analytics for mass recruiter Randstad Sourceright, which is not working with Amazon on its jobs fair. "The picker-packer role is something humans do way better than machines right now. I don't put it past Amazon to try to do that in the future, but it's one of the hardest jobs" for machines.

Amazon is "insatiable when it comes to filling jobs at warehouses," Roberts said. He said Amazon's job offers could also help drive up wages at nearby employers, including grocery stores and fast-food joints.

"It has a relatively healthy effect in the surrounding area," he said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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